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Don't Stop Nowby Julie Halpern
DONT STOP NOW (CHAPTER ONE)
I did it,” Pennys voice whispers on my voicemail. Confused, I push the button to replay. “I did it.” Thats all she said. According to Robot Phone Woman Time Keeper, Penny called at exactly 4:47 a.m., a rather unacceptable time to call anyone on a Saturday morning, and most certainly not on the Saturday morning after the Friday that was our last day of high school EVER. Because it is the first Saturday of the rest of our lives, finally past all of the clique clack crud of high school, I allow myself to sleep past my mothers acceptable sleep hour of exactly 11:59 (“At least its still morning”) until 1:43 in the afternoon. Which makes me approximately nine hours too late to stop Penny.
How did it become my responsibility to help this pathetic soul anyway? We werent ever friends until this past year, and even then only by default. I had no choice really, unless I wanted to be a total hag by not asking her to join us at the Lunch Table of Misfit Toys, dubbed so by our paltry group of seniors in lunch period 8, who were so placed because we chose not to stress ourselves out with AP classes, resulting in a more pliable schedule for the admin to have their way with. Instead of the race for the maximum number of AP credits possible, I selected some easy, breezy in de pen dent studies of things I actually enjoy doing, like Creative Writing and Photo. Why bother with the AP BS anyway? So you can graduate college early? No thanks. I breezed through my senior year like I plan to breeze through this summer, living off the fat of the land that is my bat mitzvah savings, and just chilling out. No worries. Or at least, that was the plan.
“I did it.” Who leaves a message like that? Who is so paranoid that they have to be so cryptic? If this wasnt day one of my Summer of Nothing, I might be in a hurry to figure this out. But first: breakfast. Or lunch, really. Snack? Lack, or lunk maybe. It is a bowl of cereal, what ever it is. I like to fancy myself a cereal connoisseur. Today, slightly out of it and in need of substance and energy, I mix some Frosted Mini-Wheats with Cookie Crisp, and throw in a few Craisins for fruit and texture. I shake up the skim milk, splash it on, toss around the cereal pieces with a spoon to make sure each piece is coated with milk, and plant myself in front of the computer. Then I second-guess it. Maybe I dont want my lunk interrupted by the possibility of more Penny drivel waiting on the other side of the screen, so I flip on the TV instead. An actual video is on MTV. Hip-hop or rap or something. Not my scene. But I cant help wishing I had a butt like that girl in the video. I wonder how she buys jeans, though.
“I did it.” Its like Pennys voice is floating out of my cereal from between the flakes and the crisps. How did she say it? It wasnt urgent or terrified, like someone calling 911 from under her bed as she waits for a killer to enter her room, nor was it excited or light or distracted or a million other adjectives I can think of. She just sounded flat, like the only reason she left the message at all was to keep a record of her existence.
Before I call Penny, you know, just to clarify things, I decide to call my best friend, Josh. Although, if theres one person who can outsleep me, its him, and I say this from experience. Sadly the experience is due to the fact that he and I are so platonic that his dad and my mom could give a ratturd if I sleep at his house or he sleeps at mine. On the couch, of course. So damn pathetic, then, that I am so madly in love with him. Cliché, touché, but true. Ive spent four years waiting for something to happen between us that is more than just sharing a toothbrush when he forgets to bring his own. This summer is the last chance, before I head off to college and he heads off to tour Europe with his band or records the Next Big Thing album he always talks about or possibly moves to Saskatoon to hunt moose. He doesnt know where hell go, but it sure isnt college. And its most definitely not in any way, shape, or form dependent on anything I do or anywhere I go. But, damn, I wish it was.
I decide to try and wake him. The phone only rings twice before Josh picks up.
“Heeeyyyy.” He sounds awake and happy to see me on the caller ID, which gives my stomach a buzz. I remember once at school when I was talking to some randomer, and Josh came out of the bathroom, me not expecting to see him there because he had Español at the time, and this randomer, upon seeing the two of us see each other, said, “Its like you guys havent seen each other in weeks. Thats how happy you look.” And I thought, Him, too?
“Good afternoon, sir. May I interest you in a pointless quest?” Josh and I like to go for long walks or drives with fake purposes and dub them quests. Once we spent an entire afternoon “looking for love in all the wrong places,” like that super-lame old country song. We looked under rocks, at Ben & Jerrys, in the sand box at Stroger Park. I thought maybe, just maybe, hed get the hint that love was standing right next to him in a cute pair of cut-off s, but Josh seemed to miss that somehow.
“Ill meet you at Stroger in twenty. And I hope you dont mind, but I have evening stink.” Josh isnt much of a fan of showering on a regular basis, which may put off some, but I prefer his sleep smell to some covered-up soap smell any day.
I finish my cereal, drop the bowl in the sink, and tug on a blue bra, blue T-shirt, and jean shorts. Some days I like to be monochromed, just for the hell of it. I brush my teeth, tug my chin-length golden brown hair into a nub of a ponytail, shuffle my way into a pair of flip-flops, and Im out the door.
The air smells free. Free from class schedules and guidance counselors and hallway politics. High school hell is over.
“I did it.” Damn that message. Damn Penny for glomming her way into my life. I wish I didnt care. Its messing with my new freedom vibe.
Three blocks away is Stroger Park, big when I was little and little now that Im, well, big. Two regular swings, a tire swing, two baby swings, a slide, a wall climb, some monkey bars, and plenty of woodchips to stick in your flip-flops. I always wondered, Why the woodchips? It seemed like there would be more woodchip-in-the-eye accidents than woodchips-as-saviors-for-falling-children incidents. Or maybe I just missed them because I was too busy, you know, being a kid.
Josh hangs upside down from the monkey bars, shirtless (as is his summer look), his self-cut, shoulder-length brown hair dangling below him. I try not to ogle, but, damn, he looks amazing without a shirt. How do guys get to look so good without exercising or eating well at all? Hes skinny, but not too skinny, and all nice and defined. I exhale a platonic sigh.
“Hey, Lil,” he calls and swings himself off the bars, stumbling onto the woodchips. Even graceless, hes gorgeous. “You smell that?” he asks as I approach him, and I sit down on the metal ladder to the monkey bars.
“Well, what do you expect when you dont shower?” I ask. “No.” He chuckles in his slow, slack way. He grabs the high bar closest to me and hangs himself so he can easily kick my knees with his ratty black Chucks. “Not me.” He takes a huge sniff of air. “That. That smell. The rest of our lives.” He grins big and I grin bigger. Our lives are going somewhere away from here. Like Penny, I remember.
“I got a message. This morning. From Penny.”
“Poor little lamb.” Josh always teases me about Penny because I befriended her out of pity, but he plays along, too. Were both too nice to let her go it alone. “Whatd she say?” he asks me, still hanging.
I ignore the shoes on my knees. “‘I did it.” I look up at him and whisper it the same way she whispered to my voicemail.
“Did what?” he asks, but not curious enough. “It?” He laughs, although we both know she did it a long time ago, thanks to the pregnancy scare aftermath I had to clean up.
“She told me she was going to do something the other night, before graduation. Only I was just half listening, and you know how morose she can be. Sometimes I just need to block her out if I want to have a bit of fun.”
Josh nods and lets the flappy rubber of his messed-up shoe tug on my knee. “So what did she do?” Hes more interested now, and now that Ive got an audience for the story, so am I.
“If I heard her right…” I pause, adding to the tension of the tale Im about to begin. “Well.” Quizzical look. Pause. “I think she may have faked her own kidnapping.”
I hate gym class. I hate wearing this hideous green, too-thin, too-short, too-cold uniform. It stinks. My bad for not taking it home, but I dont even want it to touch my backpack. No one comes near me anyway, so what does it matter. I just wish these shorts werent so short. Did the makeup cover that purple spot on my leg enough? God, I hope so. I hope no one asks about it. Not like they will.
I wish the boys gym classes were sharing the gym with us today. No, I dont. I look gross today. Bloated. Must be getting my period. I hope Im getting my period. God, I hope I get it this time. I dont want Gavin to see me in these shorts. The bruise. Maybe he should see it. No. That might make him mad. Like Im showing someone. Good thing the boys arent in here. Ill just sit on the bleachers and hope Dr. Warren doesnt force me to play basketball. Usually if I make a pathetic enough face, she leaves me alone. What is she a doctor of, anyway? Basketball. Did she really go to medical school to just become a gym teacher? Oh, god. Shes coming. She wants me to play. She wants me to be on the blue team. I hate the mesh smocks. Who knows who wore this before me?
The blue team. At least there are some nicer people on it. Not those bitches who always laugh at me in the locker room. And in the hall. When I interrupt them talking to Gavin. What business do they have talking to Gavin? I would kill them all if I didnt know that Gavin loves me more than he could ever love anyone else. Thats what he tells me. He wouldnt lie.
This girl Lillian is on the blue team. Shes so pretty. So tall. I wish I looked like her. I bet Gavin does, too. I bet she doesnt have a single problem in the world. Isnt she dating that guy Josh? Hes so sweet to her in the halls. Arms around her. They look perfect together. Perfect height. Perfect bodies. Perfect lives. I wish I were her.
DONT STOP NOW Copyright © 2011 by Julie Halpern.
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